Under the leadership, mission and vision of former U.S. President William J. Clinton, an admired global symbol of lifelong public service, this past weekend marked yet another milestone in inching the world towards a more peaceful and prosperous future for generations to come.
Modeled after the wildly successful Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) held in New York City since 2005 during the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, President Clinton launched the third annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) at the University of Miami last Friday. For three days, the torches of inspiration, passion, commitment and action were set ablaze, igniting the social imagination of 1,300 change-makers hailing from 83 countries, 318 schools and all 50 U.S. states. Attending as the Harvard University Campus Representative, I was eager to meet my counterparts from around the globe, partake in shared learning and exchange on pressing international challenges -- from human trafficking to the future of the world's water supply and climate change -- and begin to cultivate a network of relationships that extended far beyond the moments in Miami. In all of these pursuits, CGI-U delivered, day in and day out.
While the plenary, working and skills sessions focused on particular areas of concern or the capacities required to implement our commitments, I will highlight three key processes and traits that seemed to underpin every successful transition from social thought into social action.
The first, considered the foundational stone beneath all others, is the raw discovery and unleashing of your passions onto the world. "Today, you can be a doctor and a musician, for many of us have multiple passions," stated Dr. Rejina Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States. Constantly feeding your multiple curiosities allows you to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to understand both your place in the world and where you can achieve the most impact. "I attribute a large part my success to the fact that I was able to maneuver between different genres and apply my knowledge and skills adaptively," asserted musician and social entrepreneur Pharrell Williams. "In the 21st century, being a one-trick pony is severely limiting both personally and professionally." However, setting parameters based on your skills and abilities is critical, and truly understanding where you can and cannot make a difference are both equally important. Therefore, it is necessary that you continually seize opportunities and experiences that stir the soul in order to determine causes you wish to commit to, knowledge you wish to seek and skills you wish to develop, all towards the ultimate goal of advancing the global common good.
The second, a process every attendee surely engaged in as they departed the convening, was applying the notion of unreasonable ambition to their causes and commitments. Rooted in the ideals of our own imaginations, being motivated by seemingly impossible objectives tends to unlock an incredible level of creativity and innovation. By willingly ignoring conventional wisdom and the traditional pace of change, we simply have no choice but to relentlessly seek better solutions, faster. It is precisely this mentality that led Robyn Allen of MIT to launch the Vehicle Design Summit, in hopes of catalyzing the development of an ultra energy-efficient automobile that drives 200 miles per gallon. Harnessing the insight and intellect of students from around the world and channeling it towards the global energy crisis exemplifies our generation's ability to mobilize the masses, magnify one of the world's toughest challenges, and most importantly, make tangible contributions to the very solution that will change the world as we know it today.
The third is a combination of visualizing success, sheer hard work and reconfiguring your mindset to embrace a victory on the way to becoming victorious. It's a process that gave a 10-year old boy the priceless experience of sitting in the governor's chair in the state of Arkansas while on a school fieldtrip, who, while sitting flush on the leather seat, exclaimed, "I can do this!" That boy's name was Bill Clinton. Returning the favor to any family visiting him in the Oval Office, the former President let each child sit in the chair of the Commander-in-Chief for a photo-op, to instill that sense of unreasonable ambition, higher calling and public service. The inspiration of others can take many forms, and at CGI-U, it was this spirit of recognizing each others talents, ambitions, and game-changing goals by way of making commitments to pursue the impossible -- and yet, they were all well on their way to achieving just that.
In speaking to Jennifer Fishkin, a fellow attendee and a senior at Cornell University majoring in industrial labor relations -- who's commitment to action aimed to implement mobile banking in the West Bank -- remarked, "CGI-U hopefully represents the future of 21st century academia. It demonstrated the utility of addressing global challenges through multiple perspectives of analysis. For instance, attendees looked at peace and human rights through the lens of water, poverty and education, while addressing tools such as social media."
Arguably, we are living in the most important time in human history. Our destinies are inextricably shared in both success and failure, and the world is only continuing along the path of interdependence. Forums such as CGI-U are sparking innovation and inspiration across the United States and around the world by tapping into our generation's urgency of purpose and desire to be engaged. We are in the midst of writing the first chapter in our generation's biography, for we all have at least another half-century to make a difference. With that in mind, I can't wait for chapter two, nevermind chapter ten. Indeed, we have only just begun.
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